Tagore’s Philosophy of Education and Society

Tagore’s Philosophy of Education and Society

“A teacher can never truly teach, unless he is still learning himself. A lamp can never light another lamp, unless it continuous to burn its own flame”

-Rabindranath Tagore.

This could be one reason why even in the 21st-century parents constantly strive towards providing better education to their children. In spite of being home to great philosophies on education, the system is failing to pick up messages from the subtle frequencies of great philosophers. Our divine poet, Rabindranath Tagore was born during a period of strife in pre-independence India. He stood for the development of a free mind, free knowledge, and a free nation. Even as a young boy he could sense that school was nothing but a dead routine and lifeless. He regarded schools as mills of rote learning with no freedom for creativity. Schooling almost had no influence on his life. According to him, the primary objective of education was to enable the preservation of the perfect symphony between one’s life and the world outside.


‘Education’ is a social phenomenon as well as an indispensable component of social structure. Since ancient times, education has been considered the main engine for the reconstruction of society. As a result, social thinkers and reformers have been emphasizing the relation between education and society. The ‘educational thoughts’ of Western thinkers and reformers are quite dominant in Bengal’s academic arena. The ‘educational thoughts’ of Bengalee thinkers and reformers, who made great contributions to the reformation of society, remain marginalized. In this regard, the book ‘Banglaeer Samajchintay Shikkha Prosongo’ (Place of Education in Bengalees’ Social Thoughts) is a very timely and noble initiative by the author. In Bengal educational reformation movements of seven reformers from Bengal’s Hindu community and eight major reformers from Bengal’s Muslim community. They are Ram Mohan Roy, Tarachand Chakraborty, Rashikkrishna Mallik, Akshay Kumar Datta, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Keshub Chunder Sen, and Rabindranath Tagore and Nawab Abdul Latif, Faizunnesa Chowdhurani, Delawarr-Hosaen-Ahmed-Meerza, Syed Ameer Ali, Nawab Ali Chowdhury, Begum Rokeya, Abul Hussein and Kazi Nazrul Islam.

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), Not only Indian but was Asia‘s first Nobel Laureate, was born into a prominent Calcutta family known for its socio-religious and cultural innovations during the 19th Bengal Renaissance. The profound social and cultural involvement of his family would later play a strong role in the formulation of Rabindranath‘s educational priorities.In his octogenarian span of life Rabindranath Tagore left an indelible impression about our educational standard, social situation, economic situations etc various other issues of common interests in post Independent India which is now bearing fruit in new decades. Tagore also predicted about division of Bengal into two parts as well as that of Independent India.

This columnist from the Indian city of Kolkata will not divulge into other sides of Tagore but will aim to restrict within his educational thoughts, which is still deeply as per our educational maneuvering. In the subsequent paragraph I am going to throw light about all his educational thoughts, which is deeply relevant for the present generations.

There is a common saying among Tagore scholars of India, Bangladesh and other parts of the globe that Rabindranath Tagore was born a little bit earlier than the required moment when his relevance of educational philosophy was badly required. Tagore had the privilege of witnessing only First World War (1914-1919) and in the midst of Second World War (1939-1945) he departed for eternal peace and salvation in the year 1941 on August 7.

During the period of First World War ( 1914-1919) when the entire globe was in the midst of severe catastrophe Tagore wanted to unite the entire global citizens under one banner which the citizens of the globe around that time literally jeered at him.

This made Tagore badly crestfallen. After that Visva-Bharati University was launched by Tagore in the year 1921. As far as Rabindranath Tagore’s philosophy of education is concerned we find that he dealt mainly on aesthetic development of education so that it is always taken by the human beings in its purest form.

According to Tagore, education is not just attendance of regular curriculum of schools, colleges and universities but rather it is regarded as assimilation of knowledge of various types which is later on transmitted to towards the refinement of societies. He first of all emphasized upon nature oriented education, which means all boys and girls of his sacred place or abode of peace should be taught about the basics of nature, animals and human beings under banyan tree so that students got acclimatized to the vagaries of nature.

He also emphasized upon fine arts, vocal music and painting as the modicum of sophistication of our societies in his period and also in the later parts of his life the situation of which will be evinced after his demise. Tagore also stressed upon the development of agriculture and cooperative farming as the chief mode of development of economic situation of the globe and also in Independent India.

Rabindranath had understood that the educational system the British had enforced on India was meant only to train people to work as clerks in their offices, and if possible, to inculcate in the so -called educated men a feeling of inferiority for their own culture and philosophy. For this reason, Tagore pleaded for an education system in India independent of colonial British control. This idea of Rabindranath gave birth to ―Santiniketan (abode of peace) an Ashrama style educational institution in which he provided education based on the principle of freedom, natural trust, co-operation, and joy. In his opinion child‘s education would be more effective if teachers and pupils live and work far away from the din and bustle of the city, like the teachers and students of the past. He says, ―this school should be home and a temple in one where teaching should be a part of worshipful life‖. Placing teachers above the method of teaching Tagore said—

The fact that education is something vital makes the teachers duties and responsibilities deserving of serious attention. The teachers should know that it is for him to inspire life in the students by his own living to enkindle the flame of knowledge in the students by his own knowledge.

Rabindranath‘s educational philosophy was not a system in the prevalent sense of the term system. A system formulated by modern day pedagogies with rules and regulations and ready-made methodology in which teachers are thought how to teach particular subjects and prepare lessons and textbooks within set paradigms. Rabindranath discarded the notion of textbooks. He put the responsibility of educating the students in a joyful manner upon the guru. He said the relationship between the student and the guru should be of companionship. He said,

The teachers heart Continues to receive every moment of his life, and that is why he continuously gives himself totally.

He finds the proof of his truth and honesty in the process of giving and from the joy he receives from it. Joy emerges on its own when minds meet in a healthy spirit. That joy is the energy of creativity and its result is the transfer of knowledge. Those who are conscious of their duties, but do not experience jo y, tread on a different path. I consider the person-to-person relationship between the guru and shishya the prime means of imparting knowledge. Being a naturalist Tagore was aware of the sensitivity of young children and he had a firm faith in the educative value of natural objects and events. According to him ―The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence. Children have their active subconscious mind which like the tree has the power to gather food from the surrounding atmosphere.

The first important writing in this direction is “Tapovan”(Jan, 1910) —Forest. In this article for the first time, Tagore introduced a new idea of the education of feeling (Bodhersadhana) and he distinguished it from the education of the senses and the education of the intellect. This education of feeling consists of the realization of man’s bond of union with the universe through the spirit, through the soul, through the deeper intuition of feeling. Through his national system of education, India should endeavor to discover and attain the characteristic truth of her civilization pursued through the centuries by her prophets, thinkers, and saints and “that truth is not mainly commercialism, imperialism or nationalism; that truth is universalism” (Tagore, 1351 B.S., p. 100). The highly significant point here is that while Tagore is still talking in terms of nationalism and swearing by the ideals of Ancient India, he is interpreting the highest of these ideals in terms of internationalism.

The role and impact of Tagore‘s education philosophy as reflected in the contemporary educational institution of India are as follows:

Mother tongue as the medium of Instruction:

Language is the true vehicle of self-expression. Man can freely express his thought in his mother tongue or Lingua Franca. Tagore has emphasized mother tongue as the medium of instruction for the child’s education.

Self Realization:

Spiritualism is the essence of humanism; this concept has been reflected in Tagore’s educational philosophy. Self-realization is an important aim of education. Manifestation of personality depends upon the self-realization and spiritual knowledge of the individual.

Intellectual Development:

Tagore also greatly emphasized the intellectual development of the child. By intellectual development, he means the development of imagination, creative free-thinking, constant curiosity, and alertness of the mind. The child should be free to adopt his own way of learning which will lead to all-around development.

Physical Development:

Tagore’s educational philosophy also aims at the physical development of the child. He gave much importance to sound and healthy physique. There were different kinds of exercises. Yoga, games & sports prescribed in Santiniketan as an integral part of the education system.

Love for humanity:

Tagore held that the entire universe is one family. Education can teach people to realize oneness of the globe. Education for international understanding and universal brotherhood is another important aim of his educational philosophy. The feeling of oneness can be developed through the concepts like fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man all creatures are equal on this earth.

Establishment of relationship between man & God:

Man bears the diverse qualities and potentialities offered by God. These qualities are inborn and innate. The relationship between man and God is strong and permanent. However, the dedication to spiritualism and sacredness will lead to the harmonious relationship with man, nature and God.

Freedom to Learner:

Freedom is considered as an integral aspect of human development. Education is a man-making process, it explores the innate power exists within the man. It is not an imposition rather a liberal process their provides utmost freedom to the individual for his all-round development. Tagore had championed the cause of freedom. The same he wanted to implement in the field of education. With that object he had opened Santiniketan, Sri Niketan and Brahmachari Ashram. Accordingly, he gave free choice to students to develop their interest in any field they like. To him, education should be after the heart of a man. He explained freedom in three-categorized ways i.e., freedom of heart, freedom of intellect and freedom of will. Education imparted in a natural way will lead to the fulfillment of these three freedoms. One may pursue the vocational education or education of an intellect, or education in any branch of the arts or one may become a sansei by observing celibacy.

Co-relation of Objects:

Co-relation exists with God, man and nature. A peaceful world is only possible when correlation between man and nature will be established.

Moral and Spiritual Development:

Tagore emphasized moral and spiritual training in his educational thought. Moral and spiritual education is more important than bookish knowledge for an integral development of human personality. There must be an adequate provision for the development of selfless activities, co-operation and love fellow feeling and sharing among the students in educational institutions.

Social Development:

According to Tagore, “Brahma” the supreme soul manifests himself through men and other creatures. Since He is the source of all human-beings and creatures, so all are equal. Rabindranath Tagore therefore said, “service to man is service to god”. All should develop social relationship and fellow-feeling from the beginnings of one’s life. Education aims at developing the individual personality as well as social characters which enables him to live as a worthy being.


Tagore’s foresight on natural environment as background to child’s education is much needed at present because of the lack of breathing space in the current school curriculum. A child is bogged down to amass grades and marks throughout its schooling, which also builds pressure on the parents. Not to even mention school fees that are shooting through the roof, the present schooling gives lesser importance to the well-being of a child. We have reached the point where most schools are run without even playgrounds. Students should be motivated to love universal human beings of any standard. Interpretation about Rabindranath Tagore’s educative thoughts is not at all an easy task to talk about. It needs in-depth introspection of the subject matter and harmonizing different types of human beings for overwhelming development of education not only in Tagore’s motherland but also all around the globe. If we keep tripping without trying to learn from failures, we might end up with a dislike for the very process of walking, and thereby miss all the pleasures of the gift of evolution. Shifted preferences, politics, socio-economic degradation of the nation is terribly reflecting on our education system. It is high time we took notice and did something.

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